Saturday, February 28, 2009

it's easy being green

While I was in NM I saw a really cool spice rack- the spices were all held in metal containers and magnetically attached to a metal sheet that hung on the wall. It's a perfect solution to limited counter/cabinet space, which is definitely the situation I'm in. Of course, I saw no need to buy a pre-made set, especially not one that would need to be shipped across the country. As I began considering how to do this myself, I thought of using the fridge as my magnetic surface, but was reasonably confident that opening the door enough times would eventually result in spices flying all over the kitchen. After doing a bit of online research I saw that someone had thought to use the side of the refrigerator, and I realized that this would work in my kitchen too. Step one - find a surface - was complete with no purchases or new materials. Step two - magnets - easily accomplished this afternoon at the craft store. I was a little disappointed with Home Depot for not having anything appropriate, since I'm used to them having everything I need and more, but Michaels pulled through with the super strong Neo Magnets. Step three - containers - we went to several different stores (all on the same street so no wild goose chase of driving, but still more time than I should have spent) looking for matching glass or similar containers to put the spices in. My original instinct was simply to use whatever containers I currently had, but I sort of wanted the sleek look of matching containers, plus I didn't want to glue my magnets onto the containers and then need to eventually detach them. After our fruitless search I decided to just start by using the glass spice jars I already had, and then I would replace with glass as I went along, refilling the magnetized ones and perhaps relabeling as necessary. But then, I opened my drawer and saw duct tape- the perfect solution for any problem. Amazingly, a small piece of duct tape can attach the magnet securely enough to all of my spice bottles and even through the tapes the magnet still adheres to the fridge solidly enough not to slip at all (except the basil, which required 2 magnets). So now I have my spices within easy reach, my pantry has more space and I have a flexible, decent looking display. See?

Yesterday I got a T-shirt from a friend that says "It's easy being green" and features Kermit (it's made of organic cotton and non-toxic dyes, Disney is doing some good stuff). Today I wore it and also felt like I lived out the statement. While it would have been really easy to buy a pre-made set to solve my spice issues (or better yet, buy all pre-made food so I wouldn't even need spices), but I decided to do it myself using nearly all materials that I had on hand, and it was still easy! The only thing I purchased was magnets. This is definitely a sustainable system, as I add spices to my stock, I just buy more magnets and fill in the space. This also makes me want to cook- thinking about spices all day made me hungry and anxious to try out the system!

Sunday, February 22, 2009

meandering and musing

Today is the final day of my vacation. February vacation has always been a favorite of mine, it's the first time off that doesn't include a holiday which means it can be really relaxing. I should also admit I like it because it includes my birthday and getting a week off of school is always an excellent present.

This week I really packed things in and created more of a carbon output than I would care to think about. I started the week with a trip to CT to visit my parents. For my birthday they gave me one winter gift: a gorgeous soft and funky scarf that my mom knit herself and one summer gift: a hammock! Now I can really feel tropical in the warm weather, crowding all my plants and the hammock onto my balcony will really give me the feeling of being out in the wild. I set up the hammock when I got home yesterday just for fun, and was able to swing and read for a little while wrapped up in my scarf and a blanket.

Saturday night we got to go to a symphony concert. The CT opera recently had to close mid-season due to finances and so the director gave a brief speech at the beginning outlining the plans of the symphony and promising that they would not close mid-season so please buy season tickets. It made me realize that I would like to support the arts more. I go to all the student performances at school, but I should really look into what professional events I could attend. This is where I wish that I was better about going to things by myself.

Sunday I departed for New Mexico. I was worried about being bored traveling by myself so I over packed my carry on- grading, books, crosswords, mp3 player full of podcasts and a deck of cards. Needless to say I only got to the grading and the book but it was nice to have the mp3 player for background music to block out the chatterbox sitting next to me on the second flight. As a listener rather than a talker I am amazed by how some people can just talk and talk and talk; as long as the guy across the aisle wanted to listen, I didn't mind, I just don't have that much to say and it was surprising to me how much he did.

When I arrived in Albuquerque my friends picked me up and we headed up to Santa Fe. We were supposed to quickly stop by their new place and pick up the dog before heading back to their soon to be old home (they moved while I was visiting). It wasn't quite as quick as we expected though, since they had locked the keys in the house! After quite a few different failed methods, we did manage to get in and save the dog. It was certainly an exciting start to my visit.

The next day saw a delicious brunch which included my introduction to green chilies (a staple of NM) and a trip up to Diablo Canyon. Santa Fe is already about 7,000 feet above sea level, and we headed even further into the Rockies and then down into a canyon. This part of the state is desert, which was a new landscape for me. Even though it was only 40 degrees out, the sun was strong enough that I could leave behind my coat. The paths we walked were sand, and there were boulders, cacti, other unique flora and huge cliffs surrounding us. A few people were rock climbing but otherwise we had a vast landscape (including those huge skies I recognized from trips to Colorado) to ourselves.

That evening was filled mostly with relaxing at home, but we managed to fit in a brief visit to a unique art exhibit. A group of artists rent a space together and invite others to help them transform it each month. On the first day everyone gathers and chooses a location in the room and then that area is theirs to do what they want with. The final product, which is what I saw, is an interesting blend of different styles and interests, tucked into corners, under tables as well as atop them, painted directly on to the floor, and hanging from the ceiling. A few things carry throughout the space (ghosts hung around the room to commemorate the opening of that show on Friday the 13th) but mostly every way you turn is unique and requires individual attention. Nothing they do there is for sale, and everything will be removed at the end of the month long exhibit. It was a really interesting introduction to the art scene in Santa Fe (art is huge in the city and is the reason my friends moved there).

In the following days we explored Taos and Santa Fe, visiting galleries and parks, relaxing at home and meeting friends. I purchased a few keepsakes, including a vase made by natives that captures some of the colors and textures of New Mexico. Mostly though, we looked and were careful not to touch as the art we enjoyed was far out of our price range. I left the state satisfied with having seen the unique aspects of the area - the landscape and the art - while still having found plenty of time to relax and enjoy just being with my friends.

The return to CT brought more visits with family, a night out in New Haven and a visit with a college friend. Then, I finally returned to the apartment. Since my return yesterday I've been attempting to maintain that relaxed yet accomplished sensation while scurrying around to get life back into order. Tomorrow I return to school and I hope that everyone (including myself) will be ready to get back into the habits and structure that we have escaped from for what seems a very long time.

Friday, February 13, 2009

the nature of nature

This month's APLS carnival asks:

What is "nature" in the first place? What makes nature so powerful or meaningful? How has your experience with the natural world shaped your own environmentalism?

Last weekend I traveled across the state into my old stomping ground, Western Mass. I was headed to visit my best friend from college. When I arrived Friday night we grabbed dinner and spent some time exploring the natural food stores. We found some really interesting bits of nature there, including emu eggs! They are huge and green and amazing. While our first interaction with nature occurred in the warmth and safety of a store, it transported us to thoughts of a distant environment. Seeing eggs isn't normally an exciting experience (although I do get a certain warm glow from buying my local and organic 6 packs) but seeing such an exotic variety prompts thoughts of why on earth eggs should be green and sparkle. Was Dr. Seuss familiar with emu eggs when he wrote his story Green Eggs and Ham?

Saturday brought a more typical experience with nature: a hike. Getting to take trek through the snow, where the tracks of animals who had passed that way were prevalent and visible, and seeing the different ways the vegetation was coping with the weather was a great experience. The view from the peak was awe inspiring; seeing the towns surrounding us, mixed in with all the trees and meadows had a wonderfully calming and peaceful effect. Getting some fresh air, exercising and spending time with great people added to the overall effect. Plus, since the trail was covered in packed down snow, it had created what we visualized to be a luge track. My friend and I had worn snow pants and so when we headed back down the mountain, we just sat down on all the slanted portions and let gravity do its thing. That was way more fun than it should have been. Sliding down a trail in the middle of the woods brings out the pure glee I associate with five year olds. The quiet of a snowy forest, combined with the giggles and shrieks of adults acting like kids: now that is an excellent way to experience nature.

On Sunday we went sledding, and actually used sleds. It was a lot of fun, but we were on a hill on campus, facing a parking lot and a building. It definitely didn't have the same feel as being in the middle of the woods, or of being able to slide without needing plastic. We tried to slide down the hill without the sleds to recreate the experience from the previous day, but couldn't because the snow was too wet by then. Even so, it wouldn't have been the same, without the canopy of trees over the narrow trail, packed down only by other hikers seeking the same peaceful journey and rewarding view we had accomplished.

My efforts to conserve are definitely motivated by my experiences with nature. Whether it be a distant creature I've never encountered or the forests that surround my neighborhood, I want nature to continue running its course uninterrupted. I want to buy materials harvested sustainably, so that those farms or forests will continue to be prosperous and the land won't lay barren. But also, I want to make sure that no one has to infringe on what land is left near me. I'm selfish, and I want my forests to stay forests, so I try to do what I can to keep everyone else from needing them for lumber, farming or building.